The gardens where we felt secure

Music and nature - two certainties in life, two things that give and ask for nothing back, two things that never let you down
Music and nature – two certainties in life, two things that give and ask for nothing back

Perhaps because they still seem rare, hot summer days always remind us of our childhoods. Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure is the everlasting soundtrack to such days.

Today, a friend of mine wrote on Twitter that he was listening again to this magical set of tunes from 1983, and that I had first drawn his attention to them. At that moment I happened to be flicking through an old family photo album. In it, a funny, hazy, back garden scene; a Nottingham afternoon a long time ago. Not me. Not my nostalgia. It’s my partner with the funny little hairdo half curtsying on her granny’s lawn – “The haircut” an ill-advised project hatched by five-year-olds. I was not yet born and I would not meet the person in the photograph for another 25 years. And still, it’s my summer afternoon there too.

“The haircut” – Liza’s unintentional pixie look in the summer of 1977

Like the photo that feels so familiar, Astley’s sleepy summer seems just a dandelion clock away from the present. Unreachably close. Listen carefully and you will find that she will meet you after school, take you by the hand and walk you down to the meadow beyond the bend in the river. She knows you are a child, always. She makes you aware of the crickets in the long grass, points out the sand martins on the water and tells you a story about a long-lost soldier returning to his village from war. Her church bells paint the underside of distant fluffy clouds.

I first found the door to this magic-real place, stitched together from the simple found sounds of nature, through my teacher, Mr Robinson. He put From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, the title track, onto one of the compilation cassettes for which I typed the sleevenotes and soon I fell under its bucolic spell. Its pastoral score and schoolroom piano sounded the way books looked: a Bloomsbury sound, if that had existed, and it took me to new places on every listen. Astley’s mauves, dusty pinks and faded yellows could not have been further from the garish pop I was listening to in my ’90s teen bedroom. But her invitation put me in a dreamlike state of half-remembered July afternoons; someone else’s drowsy recollections, me the visitor. Nostalgia is a strange thing when you’ve only lived 14 summers.

Astley clutches a bunch of wildflowers and turns away, a scarf covering her face, on an early 1980s cover of the NME. She’s a mysterious, flower-pressed outlaw who will ambush you with a mournful clarinet reprise. Meandering somewhere, in its sensual stillness her music makes you feel okay about the passing of time. 


Anna Doble
16 July 2022

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